ATLANTA — There’s a strong case to be made that cornerback Stephon Gilmore was the New England Patriots’ best player during the 2018 season.
That honor typically is reserved for quarterback Tom Brady. But Brady wasn’t quite as dominant as usual, and Gilmore — deservedly — was the Patriots’ lone first-team All-Pro after shutting down No. 1 receiver after No. 1 receiver this season.
In the Patriots’ 13-3 Super Bowl LIII win over the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, Gilmore drew wide receiver Brandin Cooks in coverage. While Cooks had a strong game overall, Gilmore let up just four catches on eight targets for 48 yards with an interception and pass breakup over Cooks.
And that pick, which Gilmore made at New England’s 4-yard line with 4:24 left in the fourth quarter and the Rams driving to tie, was the perfect ending to Gilmore’s best season as a pro. The interception essentially clinched the game for the Patriots.
“It was clutch,” Gilmore said. “I mean, I knew (Rams quarterback Jared Goff) was going to throw it up and I knew I had to make a play. I knew he was going to force it up there. Our defensive line put a lot of great pressure on him, and he chucked it up, and I was able to make a play.”
Cornerback Jason McCourty can vouch for him.
“A series before that we were sitting on the bench and Stephon goes, ‘He’s going to throw us one. We just have to make sure we squeeze it and hold onto it.’
“He really locked down on it, though, how he’s had been doing it all season against opposing teams. He is the best corner in the game this year. There hasn’t been anybody that played better football in the cornerback position. For me, as an old guy, it’s been fun watching him this year.”
It wasn’t a difficult play for Gilmore. Safety Duron Harmon brought pressure, and Goff chucked the ball in the air. Cooks overran the throw.
“It was probably one of the easiest picks I’ve had all year,” he said.
But it was a career-defining play. Super Bowl LIII will be remembered for Julian Edelman’s MVP performance, Rob Gronkowski’s clutch catches, the dominant showing by the Patriots’ defense and Gilmore’s pick.
“It’s a great feeling,” Gilmore said. “It was a great play for me, but I couldn’t have done it without the pressure on the quarterback. It goes hand in hand. It’s not just me. I try to do my job the best that I can, but I think our team played great.”